A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis (based on the book by Charles Dickens)
Stars: Jim Carrey (Scrooge / Ghost of Christmas Past / Scrooge as a Young Boy / Scrooge as a Teenage Boy / Scrooge as a Young Man / Scrooge as a Middle-Aged Man / Ghost of Christmas Present / Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come), Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit / Marley / Tiny Tim), Cary Elwes (Portly Gentleman #1 / Dick Wilkins / Mad Fiddler / Guest #2 / Business Man #1), Robin Wright Penn (Fan / Belle), Bob Hoskins (Mr. Fezziwig / Old Joe), Colin Firth (Fred), Daryl Sabara (Undertaker’s Apprentice / Tattered Caroler / Beggar Boy / Peter Cratchit / Well-Dressed Caroler), Ryan Ochoa (Tiny Tim / Tattered Caroler / Beggar Boy / Young Cratchit Boy / Ignorance Boy / Young Boy with Sleigh), Julian Holloway (Fat Cook / Portly Gentleman #2 / Business Man #3)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2009
Country: U.S.
A Chrismas Carol
A Christmas CarolSince the silent era there have been at least 25 major productions of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol on film and television, with countless others that are in some ways spin-offs, spoofs, or updated variations. There have also been numerous stage incarnations of both the musical and non-musical variety, and the characters have seeped so deeply into the popular mindset that all one has to do is say the word “Scrooge” and the vast majority of people living in the Western world will immediately conjure up images of a grumpy, miserly old man who dampens everyone’s spirits. Thus, it seems a logical question to ask, “Why do we need yet another screen version of Dickens’ already oft-told tale?”

The answer might be that every generation gets the version of A Christmas Carol it deserves, thus Robert Zemeckis’ Disney-branded 3-D computer-animated spectacle is right up the alley of the all-digital-all-the-time era. This is, of course, Zemeckis’ third stab at reimagining page-bound stories with cutting age technology that mix computer-generated imagery with performance-capture cameras to turn flesh-and-blood actors into infinitely malleable digital avatars cavorting in completely imagined space. Each film has gradually improved on the technologies; thus, the creepy, dead-eyed children of The Polar Express (2004) were followed by the more realistic, but still somewhat wooden and waxy Nordic warriors of Beowulf (2007). A Christmas Carol may seem like a somewhat odd choice for this particular brand of filmmaking, but it makes sense, too, since it allows Zemeckis to again unleash his digital wizardry on a story that many kids (and some adults) may find stuffy and old-fashioned (ala Beowulf) while also milking the Thanksgiving/Christmas movie cash cow (ala The Polar Express, at least once it was released in 3-D at the IMAX).

Zemeckis’ version of A Christmas Carol, which he wrote and directed, also comes packaged with Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, which is an interesting casting choice given that Scrooge is defined primarily by his stooped and bitter stasis whereas Carrey is best known for his antic brand of comedic performance. Yet, as Carrey has proved in films as varied as The Truman Show (1998) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), he is hardly a one-trick pony, and here he clamps his persona into a mean-spirited ball that is personified by the deep, dragging voice he effects for Scrooge. Aside from a few structural resemblances in the face (especially around the eyes), Carrey is virtually unrecognizable as a physical actor once he has been immersed in his new digital body (as are the other actors, including Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, Bob Hoskins, and Colin Firth, all of whom play multiple characters of various shapes, sizes, and ages). And this, of course, is precisely the point. One of the failures of Zemeckis’ earlier CG outings was that they didn’t take full advantage of the possibilities of digital manipulation; hence Anthony Hopkins pretty much looked like Anthony Hopkins in Beowulf (although they did give Ray Winstone a shiny, buff new body that didn’t require any gym work).

In his screenplay, Zemeckis sticks fairly close to Dickens’ original story, right down to much of the dialogue, so if there is anything new in reworking the old tale it is entirely in visual terms, which are admittedly quite impressive. The computer-generated wizardry allows Zemeckis free reign in imagining the supernatural visitors who come to haunt Scrooge into being a better person, which not surprisingly gives the film its best moments (Zemeckis truly digs into the horrific undertones, reminding us that the novella’s original title was A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas). At the same time, said free reign also allows him to indulge in truly ridiculous visual pyrotechnics and roller-coaster thrills, which take full advantage of the technologies available, but fail to illuminate or otherwise expand Dickens’ story in any meaningful ways. Thus, this Christmas Carol is pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be, and how you feel about that will largely shape your reaction to the film as either an exciting, modern update or a crass, literary-ransacking atrocity for the attention-addled age.

Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick

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All images copyright © Walt Disney Pictures

Overall Rating: (2.5)

James Kendrick

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